Affordable Housing On The Navajo Reservation

Contributed By

David O. Ortiz

Those living on the Navajo Reservation will soon be able to purchase a home for $30,000 to $40,000, thanks to an innovative plan developed by Indigenous Community Enterprises (ICE) at Northern Arizona University.

The Navajo Hogan/Roundwood Manufacturing Project calls for the establishment of a manufacturing facility in Cameron, Ariz. on the Navajo Reservation that will produce affordable hogan housing.

With an estimated average cost of $30-40,000, the hogans are affordable and provide maximum heat efficiency and minimal maintenance.

The facility will produce Hogan kits as well as modular hogan structures. Eventually the facility will also produce a range of associated crafts, such as furniture that can be jointly marketed with the modular hogans.

ICE worked closely with community members of the western portion of the Navajo Nation to formulate a program to create affordable housing that blends modern architectural knowledge with traditional designs.

Project director Brett Ken Cairn said, “ICE’s Hogan Project is envisioned as an integrated community development project that creates employment, vocational and entrepreneurial training and cultural education and preservation.”

Ken Cairn said, “We intend to create 20 to 30 jobs over the next 3 to 5 years with an initial investment of approximately $1.5 million into the community per year.”

As part of its community aspect strategy, ICE is also building links to high schools and colleges to develop both vocational and entrepreneurial training. Two high schools on the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley High School and Tuba City High School, are preparing to work with ICE in the development of construction training programs in hogan and other round wood construction.

ICE is also working with NAU’s College of Business Administration to develop a major initiative creating a service corps of graduate students who will receive scholarships in exchange for pledging a period of service working in the businesses ICE is helping to establish.

ICE contacted tribal elders to get their input on the project.

“In most traditional cultures, dwellings are integrally linked to the way an individual, family and community relate to its history,” Ken Cairn said. “Elders we have consulted tell us how important it is to incorporate traditional elements in the design and construction of the hogan.”

A centerpiece of the project is the development of a roundwood manufacturing facility at the Cameron Chapter of the Navajo Nation that will be the initial production site for hogans and other roundwood products. These products will be made from the small diameter trees, 6-9-inches, being removed from forest restoration activities on traditional use lands around the San Francisco Peaks.

Ken Cairn said, “By using this type of wood, the cost of forest restoration would be reduced from $800 per acre to an average of $50-100 per acre, so it’s a cost-saving measure for the Forest Service.”

ICE has already completed its first model hogan at the Cameron Chapter and has two more prototypes scheduled for construction n the next six weeks. Working with the chapter, the Navajo Nation government and partner organizations, ICE has already raised nearly three-quarters of the $700,000 necessary to establish the facility. ICE anticipates hiring its first workers and delivering its first hogan homes by early winter.

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